Our guest is Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, the 54th person to serve the State of Louisiana in this capacity.
Billy Nungesser’s drive to rebuild the tourism industry of Louisiana as we exit the pandemic is admirable, and we are well on the way to breaking the historic number of visitors we experienced in 2019 right before the pandemic. “In 2019, over 53 million people visited Louisiana leaving behind $1.9 billion in tax dollars, over $1,100 for each Louisiana family. By 2023, we’ll be back to record-breaking numbers, In Louisiana, we treat strangers like family. You leave Louisiana with a friend for life and you keep coming back. Especially in the Acadiana region.”
Billy brings a unique joie de vivre to his position. Enthusiastic and hard-working, he became nationally known 12 years ago when serving as President of Plaquemines Parish in the aftermath of one of the biggest environmental disasters in history, the BP Oil Spill. He became the voice of Louisiana’s frustration and the New York Times named him the “hardest working man in Louisiana.”
Never seeing himself as a politician, Billy and his wife were living in Plaquemines Parish where they had built a riding center for special needs kids. With the 26 horses (and a few donkeys) they offered, he said, “We watched miracles happen in these young lives who had been wheelchair-bound.” He also was a rancher with 400 head of cattle and 200 head of elk and had a successful business converting shipping containers into offshore living quarters.
When Katrina hit in 2005, Billy found himself not only with animals to rescue, but neighbors who were stranded with no help. He took in 30 people who lived with him for months. Commissioner Agriculture Mike Strain’s dad and uncle, who were in the cattle business with him, lived with him for a year after Katrina, rescuing animals. “I never saw a politician come by. I got so aggravated that people were left on their own.” He got angry enough to run for Plaquemines Parish President and won. He became a voice of Louisiana and its people.
Billy was elected to serve as our Lt. Governor in 2016. The Office of Lieutenant Governor oversees many departments, with its main responsibility being Culture, Recreation, and Tourism, overseeing state parks and nine museums. Keep Louisiana Beautiful is also an important focus, as Lt. Gov. Nungesser strives to build awareness in our citizens of the importance of cleaning up our state.
Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser spoke highly of Matt Stuller and his initiative, Parish Proud, for its heroic efforts to clean up Lafayette Parish and end the habit of littering. We can all do our part to pitch in and change our culture. For more information on Parish Proud, visit https://parishproud.org/
He also believes that the Historical Preservation and Revitalization of Downtowns throughout Louisiana is of critical importance. For an overview of grants and tax incentives, visit https://www.crt.state.la.us/cultural-development/historic-preservation/main-street/.
As a former Parish President of Plaquemines, Billy shared the importance of all businesses, strip malls, and restaurants putting out trash bins so that it is easy to dispose of trash. “When I was Parish President, we put out 20 trash cans along Hwy. 23 at an angle where people could throw their trash from their cars. 90% of garbage went into the trash cans or near enough so that it was easy to dispose of.” He shared that less than 17% of our people actually litter. “It’s time to clean up our state just as you clean up your home when you invite people over. Hopefully one day we won’t have to spend millions to pick up trash.”
The Lieutenant Governor’s Office is giving out grants to parishes and cities that will put up trash cans and keep them clean. He is also focused on working with Sheriffs across Louisiana to award grants to pay for work-release prisoners to pick up trash. “We want to give them tools to get grants and not take away from funding for fighting crime.” He recently spoke to 3rd-graders in Alexandria on the importance of fighting litter and encouraged them to “Go home and tell our parents if they litter, you’re going to call the Lieutenant Governor!”
One of Lt. Gov. Nungesser’s favorite departments is overseeing Volunteer Louisiana, which in the past few years has mobilized its 10,000 volunteers on disaster recovery. Partnering with nonprofits of all sizes, Volunteer Louisiana has helped remove trees, muck and gut homes, and get people back in their homes after devastating losses. In good times, the organization has helped paint senior citizens’ homes, build wheelchair ramps, and take other steps which improve the quality of life for our most in-need citizens.
With every opportunity available, Lt. Gov. Nungesser promotes our “Louisiana flavor.” At the recent IPW (International Pow Wow for tourism), he promoted Bayou Rum and Tabasco Sauce, saying, “It’s an economic engine promoting all of the good food and flavors Louisiana has to offer.”
The Louisiana Civil Rights Trail is also an important initiative that Billy Nungesser wanted to create as a means to capture this important historic element of our past. “Louisiana has more heroes and occurrences that happened here than anywhere. The first bus boycott wasn’t in Alabama, it was in Baton Rouge in 1953 when a young man, 17 days out of law school, filed a lawsuit protesting his having to ride in the back of the bus.” Over 14,000 Black residents in Baton Rouge participated in the bus boycott. For more information on the Civil Rights Trail, visit https://www.louisianacivilrightstrail.com/.
Billy was a successful businessman before serving in elected office. His idea to take old shipping containers and convert them into living quarters became a huge success as he created comfortable quarters for offshore workers. He laughingly recounted that when he approached his dad with a request for startup funding, he was turned down, but his mom shared the $7,900 left in his college fund. Billy’s first project was to purchase a 20 foot storage container, put in six bunks, a kitchen, and a bathroom. He rented it to Joe Adams of Houma Industries. Within a short time frame, he was building fifty living quarters each for Shell and Chevron. When he sold his company, it had a total of 1,000 high-quality buildings in the Gulf in addition to 20 modular prisons across the U. S. for prison overcrowding needs.
In closing, we want to thank Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser for his service to our state and for his dedication to our people. He may be a candidate for Governor next year and will announce his decision in early 2023.
As we wound down our interview, he said, “The only thing I will ever promise is good government, because if I took a dollar for anything other than that, I couldn’t look you in the eye and ask you to vote for me. My advice to the next Governor or Lt. Governor is that no matter what party you’re in, you’ve got to work together. It is invaluable to work together as a team.”